CANTON, Ohio-- Canton City School Board members voted unanimously to deny their employees the right to use medical marijuana even if they have a qualifying illness or disability by state law.
Board members on Monday added medical marijuana to their drug-free workplace policy calling the issue "complicated." Among the considerations is that while medical marijuana has been legalized by state law, it remains illegal federally.
"The reality is the way the laws are written and the newness of Ohio's law, which is somewhat ambiguous in a number of areas and doesn't quite square with the federal law," said Board Vice President Eric Resnick.
Resnick said he approved the ban understanding that medical marijuana could provide relief to people with qualifying conditions and might help reduce the incidents of opiod abuse in the state.
"The bottom line is at this point, much to my chagrin, we have to follow the law and there isn't a whole lot of room to welcome the use of medical marijuana as a matter of policy," Resnick said.
The decision is consistent with state law.
"Ohio very clearly gives employers the ability to set their own policy," Thomas Rosenburger, the Executive Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio, told FOX 8 News.
The law, which spells out the directives for Ohio's Medical Marijuana Program, clearly said there is nothing in the bill which, "requires an employer to permit or accommodate an employee's use, possession or distribution of medical marijuana."
While state law does permit employers to ban medical marijuana in the workplace, John Pardee of the Ohio Rights Group is crossing the state trying to convince them otherwise.
"We are really trying to encourage all employers to recognize the fact that allowing their employees to have access to this very safe, very effective analgesic will go a long way to reducing the number of people who become addicted to opiods, and the number of people who unfortunately die of opiod overdoses," Pardee said.
"State-funded schools are more bound to the state than they are to the federal government," Pardee told FOX 8 News, adding, "As far as I'm aware, the federal government has not issued any policies to school boards prohibiting schools from permitting certain employees from safe access to cannabis."
The policy is much like one that was passed by nearby Plain Township in 2016, also citing federal drug laws.
In addition to allowing employers to prohibit their employees from using medical marijuana, House Bill 523 also allows employers to discipline or terminate employees who violate the policy.
The bill reads:
"A person who is discharged from employment because of that person's use of medical marijuana shall be considered to have been discharged for just cause for purposes of division (D) of section 4141.29 of the Revised Code if the person's use of medical marijuana was in violation of an employer's drug-free workplace policy, zero-tolerance policy, or other formal program or policy regulating the use of medical marijuana."
"Those who choose top-use medical marijuana may be facing a difficult choice of whether it's compatible with their employment or not," said Richard Milligan, board member and attorney.
"We are required, if we receive federal money, to participate and abide by the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, which does not make an exception for state medical marijuana laws," Milligan said.
In passing the new policy, the Canton City School Board members also said they would carefully watch as related cases make their way through Ohio courts and would leave the option open to revise their policy at some time in the future.
In the meantime, the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio is advising any employer who wants to have such a policy to create it before medical marijuana dispensaries open to avoid any conflicts afterwards.
Those dispensaries could open as soon as this December.